Tag Archives: undergrad

If I Could Go Again…

I didn’t come to New York thinking I would write the next great manuscript.

That’s a lie, actually. I think I did come here with that in the background, whether or not I acknowledged the existence of the thought. I’ve been in a slump since I finished my thesis draft, which is a full length manuscript; if any of you are counting, that was over a year ago now. It’s a full length memoir, and it’s ready to do things that manuscripts do when they become real things. It even has real author blurbs and everything. But I’m not pushing for it. It’s sitting. I’m sitting. I’m dragging my feet on my edits. I’m not responding to emails. I’ll write about dogs, I tell myself. I’ll write about dogs and people will want to read it, and I’m with them every day, and I’m learning every day, and I SHOULD write about dogs. 

And the not uttered thought:

Damn it, but writing’s not fun anymore now that it’s work. 

I graduated a year ago last weekend. And it seems to me that my actual grad school got me nothing. I learned more before grad school. Yeah, I learned some stuff there. But I feel like I spent a lot of time teaching my peers too, like I came in to the program with the knowledge we were already getting. I’m not being conceited with that statement; I was simply taught very well by my undergrad professors. I left my graduate program with no real friends from the school, just a smattering of great acquaintances, due to a combination of things–lack of social ambition, lack of people skills, lack of…connectability? I made the wrong choice in program, and I know that now. I think I knew that when I got here, the first semester when I turned in a paper that accidentally went over people’s heads. I never fit in my program. I wasn’t driven to attend school functions, at least not until the very end when they suddenly wanted me to read, everywhere. I came early, but I came early to write, by myself usually. I left right after class. It was nothing like undergrad, and I was disappointed in myself, in the program, for what I could have had elsewhere. 

I may have left the program with nothing, with no writing community (anyone out there want to adopt me to theirs? No really. I’m serious–message me.), but I did leave with New York. I am a New Yorker.

New York? Well, that got me everything.

See, I’m a different person in New York. I’m not scared to be out in the world. I’m not nervous navigating the subway, going to new places, exploring, being out and about (within reason, of course.) I like experiencing new things (again, within reason). I get coffee with people sometimes; I go to movies; I go out to eat. I sit at home with my cat and read books and play video games (and write when I wanna), and I don’t feel ashamed about the alone time. I do things for me and I don’t apologize, not anymore. I claim my story and I own my work and there’s no more “sorry this is hard for you to hear/read (even though it happened to me and not to you and I deserve to write about it).”

I think the biggest difference between New Yorker me and Wisconsin me is confidence. Confidence in myself, in my thoughts, in my body. My best friend, E, came to visit recently, on break from her own graduate program in Texas. We went to a jazz show on her second to last night here (a bar atmosphere I actually enjoyed, mind you), and I was digging in my closet prior to the show as I tried to decide what to wear. In the very back, on the last hook, was a little black dress. I bought it in 2009, pre-pregnancy, and I wore it a few times back then. Always with a tank top underneath to cover my chest, because the neckline was super low and my ex decidedly did not approve. Post-pregnancy, I didn’t wear it again. It never fit, and it always felt weird with a tank top underneath anyway. But on a hunch, on jazz night, I pulled that dress out and slipped it on–no tank top. Not only did it fit, it looked good. It showed a LOT. But it looked good. I wore it out in public with only a mild amount of concern that I might have a Janet Jackson-esqe moment (I did not). I needed no one’s approval but my own, though I most definitely did tell people how excited I was to no longer carry baby weight around and to wear something I haven’t worn in eight years (screw you, Ex). 

E and I haven’t lived in the same vicinity for almost four years now, but it was like we had never been apart–it definitely helps that we FaceTime pretty much every Sunday. I think that I used to largely be a follower just because I didn’t know what else to be. I make no claims to NOT be a follower now, but what I noticed when E was here was that I followed a lot in searching for new experiences, for things I might not see or want to see because my own views and experiences limit me. I am the same while also being different. I am the same, but my motivations have turned. Like with the dress. I wore it not to cover myself up and not for anyone else, but to say I am comfortable with my body and it is mine. Fun times were had while E was here, (her words when I asked if I could mention her visit, but I agree!), and they reaffirmed my love for this city that I only had the courage to come to because of my grad school program. 

It’s time for that yearly question: if I could do it again, would I still do grad school? Honestly, for the writing and MFA aspect? No, absolutely not. I did not need it. I have a lot of debt because of it that I think is largely the reason I’ve been too scared to try and do my own thing; I owe money to the world and I doubt my ability to raise that on my own when I have no connections in the writing community that I didn’t have pre-grad school. My undergrad professors taught me so well; I was really spoiled by that education (and shame on Scott Walker for trying to destroy the institution), and I received guidance and education and connections there that helped me to publish so much more than I did in grad school. I was a writer before I was a grad student, and I did not need a masters degree to tell me that. I HATED grad school. But I love this damn city. And if I hadn’t come here, I wouldn’t be comfortable with myself. 

So again I ask, if I could do it again, would I still do grad school? Would I still get my MFA? Yes. Yes I would. My MFA got me New York, got me me. And maybe the key to writing again is accepting that my writing is different now, is being open to telling stories, all the stories, not just the major ones. 

“Why this story? Why this piece, when it is all the pieces, all the stories? Everything is important.”

I am different now. Confident. A dog walker, and trainer. An animal lover, and rescuer. Still a follower, but an open follower. A friend. More, someday. And maybe I don’t define myself as a writer, but she’s still there too. She’s just different–but different is fun too.

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“Me” vs. Me

Three weeks ago, I was given the assignment to write two essays by Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving rapidly approaches—what are we, two weeks out now?—and if you think I’ve written essays, or even started essays, I’m going to laugh in your face. No, really. Open the window. You’ll hear me.

I’ve been in a weird head space. Call it the blahs, call it writers block, call it massive life regret; call it what you will. But I’m not writing. Someone important to me told me I was throwing a tantrum, that I needed to get out and try to publish the way I did when I was in undergrad, the way I stopped doing when I hit grad school. Did my uber expensive masters degree break me of doing the thing I love?

I started evaluating how I got here, to this place, to this weird balance of writer and dog trainer and New Yorker. I opened up my undergrad paper files, to the very first paper I ever wrote. It was an introduction for an English Lit class. I didn’t know how to write papers back then, not really, but I definitely knew how to write about myself. I knew what I wanted then:

“In all honesty, what I want is to become a writer. I like words. I am one of the few who can use a semi-colon properly; I have been writing practically since I knew how to form words. I participate in NaNoWriMo every year, the exercise of writing a 50,000 plus word novel in 30 days, just for fun. the last three years that I’ve done this, I’ve done it while working a 50 hour work week. Between writing an average of 2700 words a day and carrying my regular work load, there wasn’t a lot of time left for sleeping! I am very particular about every word that comes out of me, whether it be an ordinary conversation paper or the next great novel. there’s a small part of me that is uncertain whether the words i write are any good. However, there is a larger part of me that is beginning to realize that I actually do have a talent for this.”

It’s ironic that now, what, six years later, I have less confidence in my work than I did before I embarked on this journey. I see my friends and acquaintances with equally expensive degrees not using them more than they are, and I find myself wondering once again what the damn point was. To be clear, because I don’t want to sound like I’m taking a giant piss on my life, I am very happy where I am. I have some great relationships here, with people and dogs. I have a job I adore. I just … don’t write things. I have a super expensive degree that I paid *insert unspecified ridiculously embarrassing amount of debt here* for and it feels silly. I didn’t even do NaNoWriMo this year, and when I realized that, I promised myself I’d write in my journal every day, at least for November. Then I promptly left my apartment for a week and forgot my journal on my headboard shelf. So much for that idea.

In my prior writer years, when I was really on the ball and doing the writerly things I was supposed to do, I used to hassle my friend N about not making time in her life to write. I’ve since apologized, at least five times. I haven’t submitted an essay for publication in at least a year. I haven’t made the required edits that will make my thesis a book. I reached this great point in my writing where I had learned how to really articulate myself and my story and do it well, and I just STOPPED.

Why.

I wonder if, perhaps, I am afraid of what it means to go further. If I have broken every barrier I was comfortable breaking (and some I wasn’t) and that now I can go no further because I can never associate my story with myself in a greater public sense, with the people who were in it. If, for, as much as I tote around that I can speak, I can do these things, I can be this person who these things happened to and be more than her at the same time, that I really can’t—because to be more here means to be more back there. No more pen name; no more bottom shelf paperback. No more cloak of invisibility.

No more “me.” Just … me.

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On the Quality of Education

(Disclaimer–I am writing this on the bus.)

Tonight in my literature seminar, people were beginning to freak out about the first paper–a whopping 1500 words of analytical glee. The professor asked how many of us were confident in or had a strong background in writing analytical papers. The number of positive responses was dismally small.

As I sat in class and listened to her talking about how to analyze, one thought stuck in my head–I got a DAMN good education at Parkside. I wish everyone could realize just HOW good it is.

One thing I have frequently gotten asked since coming here is where I went to school for my BA. I tell them, and I hear “Where?” Yup. It’s this middle of nowhere school that no one here has heard of. At first I felt really weird about it–like I was a poser who doesn’t belong here. What I’m realizing now is that that’s okay. I didn’t come from a big name school. It’s nowhere near the top ten of anything, because no one has ever heard of it. But I know what an analytical thesis is. I can create one and support it. I can structure a paper that makes sense and present a solid, coherent argument. I can craft a topic sentence. I can analyze. I couldn’t do that before my time at Parkside. I look at my first analytical papers, and I laugh at how much I’ve grown. Suddenly, timid me who thought I would fail my first Literary Analysis paper (I got a 92) is in a position to teach other in my cohort what analysis means. Some friends requested I send out a paper; D says I will scare the crap out of them. I say that’s only fair; that first paper scared the crap out of me. But I grew from it. They will grow too.

I’ve been researching for a piece I’m writing on gender, and I’ve come across some interesting things about the different “tiers” of university. There’s the big leagues–school like Harvard and such that are top notch at what appears to be all the things, focusing largely on research. There’s the middle tier, which is schools that also seem to be research-focused, but are not as well known or prestigious. And then there’s the bottom tier. That’s the liberal arts schools, like Parkside–and these are the schools that focus largely on teaching. This system creates a problem where the professors in the lower tier can teach the SHIT out of their subjects but not advance, because the teaching load is too great and there is zero time for research. However, in the upper tier, there are professors who are so research focused that they delegate everything to TAs and can’t even tell you a single student’s name. Which of these things is better? Which is more important? There’s a lot to be said for the imparting of knowledge, and while research and publishing are also important, to me at least, it is the quality of teaching that will always win. And I had amazing teachers.

I guess what I’m trying to say is simply thank you. Whether I had you for one class or many (I’m looking at you, D), I learned something from you that I can’t translate fully to this page. I’ve grown up brain-wise, and I’m in this program because y’all helped me to get here. What you do is important, research or no research, high course load or low, crappy students or good ones. It’s about that moment where a student gets it, and what coming to New York and being in graduate school has taught me thus far is that I, most definitely, get it.

So, thanks. :).

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Reflections on Being a Teaching Assistant

I can’t remember exactly when I made the decision to become a teaching assistant—it just sort of happened. I don’t think there are many of them in undergrad. Or at least not many who ARE undergrads. I believe this makes me a unique breed. I appreciate every moment I have gotten to spend as a teaching assistant, because I have taken away more from the experience than I would have gotten from simply being told how to teach.

At the beginning of my second semester as a teaching assistant, I was grading reading quizzes on d2l when I noticed something funny. Two of the quizzes, one by a male student and one by a female student, were submitted at exactly the same times with near exactly the same answers. It was an obvious case of cheating. I looked over each question on both quizzes multiple times, and then zeroed out the quizzes entirely; I left feedback for both students in question explaining that they had received zeroes because their answers were the same; even though it was a take home, online exam, the students were still expected to complete it alone. The male student came to me within a day or so to inquire about the zero; he was upset with the grade and wanted to know why it was considered cheating. It occurred to me then that perhaps this was not a case of them working together, but more a case of one of them copying answers of the screen next to them in the computer lab. In the back of my mind, I assumed the male student was the one who had cheated. Unconsciously, I formed a slight prejudice of this student early in the semester.

As the semester went on, he proved me wrong; this student taught me that, for reasons I am uncertain of, I tend to have a bias against male students. The female student stopped showing up to class in the first month of the semester, and the male student, while he wasn’t producing the highest quality work, kept showing up. And best of all, he kept trying. He did every extra credit option that was available to him, and he stepped up his game on both exams and papers. I believe he will pass. This student changed the way that I will view students from here on out; because of him, I made more of an effort this semester to pull for male and female students alike. This situation is also the perfect example of how black and white my thinking is, from people to grades to life in general. To me, things have always been either one way or the other, with no middle ground. As I have grown in my teaching, from my first class to my last, this is just one of many lessons I have learned.

The first real class I ever taught, aside from church related things, was a beginning theater class for five to eight year olds. My aid for the class could probably testify to the fact that I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. I had observed the class under another teacher, so I had a basic idea regarding how things should go. But I had come in expecting a curriculum filled with the right answers and what to do and arrived to find nothing but a roster and a theme: Robin Hood for tiny humans. It was my first experience flying by the seat of my pants. I like to think it worked out well; I then taught for the company for the next three years. But that first class has always been my favorite. I felt like a teacher when I was in front of their semicircle, all of them sitting cross-legged and staring up at me, waiting for me to tell them what to do. However, I will never forget the moment when they walked onstage for the end of session performance and were able to say their lines and do the choreography without me. They were independently acting, wearing their construction paper Robin Hood hats (that kept falling off on the stage). Maybe they weren’t perfect, but they were pretty darn great. They displayed the things they learned in class, and I had had a part in that, however small. To me, that was what being a teacher was really about. Being a teaching assistant has given me so many new skills that I can deploy in a wide variety of classrooms. As a teaching assistant, I have received many opportunities to learn more about teaching and I how I will approach my eventual goal of teaching college composition. Between my two sections as a teaching assistant, I have helped write and grade exams, craft discussion questions for both verbal and journal discussions, attend student conferences, grade proposals and papers, and lead class discussion. My second semester, I also created a paper proposal assignment that I hope I can use in future classrooms at other institutions.

I was very into the idea of being a teaching assistant going in my first semester; my mistake, however, was that I thought it would be easy for me. I came into it with more than two years of teaching drama on my own, I thought it would be nothing to share a classroom, that I would be able to transfer all of the skills I had learned over and automatically be amazing. I was wrong. It was exceedingly difficult for me to have to watch someone that I greatly respected and wanted to learn as much as I could from, stand up in front of the classroom and be amazing—and to know that she would expect me to do the same. I didn’t know how to live up to that, and as a result, my first teaching day during my first semester was a disaster. I planned out an awesome activity that had a lot of potential, but a series of technological failures as class was starting left me feeling uncertain and flustered. The class didn’t respond to me the way I wanted; they had never been people who liked to talk, but it still threw me. I failed to properly tie my activity in to the day at hand, fallacies, because the students weren’t talking and I got nervous. I was not effective that day; I immediately turned to the professor to bail me out. I wanted to never come back after that day. I assumed at the time that the flop was because I hadn’t planned solidly enough. But now I think it’s because I wasn’t confident. The professor told me after class that I needed to “get back on the horse.” A teacher cannot teach without having confidence, or, at the very least, being able to act like they do. I didn’t that day—but I do now.

My second semester as a teaching assistant went a lot better in so many ways. I had many successful activities throughout the semester that I plan to save and reuse in my own classroom. The first was an activity on how to create a thesis statement. I had the students write their thesis on down on the essay we had read for class that day. While they were writing, I put six different thesis statements on the board that were incorrect. When they were done, I had them set the paper aside. We discussed what comprised a good thesis and what would make a weak thesis. When I thought that the class had a good grasp on good versus bad based upon the answers they were giving me, I moved to the next stage of the activity. I broke the class into six groups and assigned each group one of the bad thesis statement that I had written on the board. I asked them to discuss in their group what was wrong with the thesis statement and then rewrite it to be a stronger thesis. I circulated throughout the room during the activity, answering questions and helping the groups to stay on track. When all the groups were done, I had them read their original  assigned thesis, the issues they found with it, and their revised version out loud. My original intention when creating the activity was to then go back to their original thesis statements and have them discuss what made them either good or bad, and then correct them if need be, in their groups. However, there was not enough time left in class to fully complete the activity. We had just enough time for them to identify whether or not their thesis statement were acceptable before it was time for them to leave. I feel that the activity went well as a whole. One major flaw in it was that the sample thesis statements that I came up with confused the students slightly—they were issue based instead of reading response based. If I ever repeat this activity at this level, I will make sure that the two types of thesis statements—the examples I give and the ones the students create—agree. Had I had more time, I would have fully debriefed them regarding what they had learned and how they could re-approach their original thesis statements from the beginning of class. This step is a step of teaching that I have always had trouble with; in teaching drama, I refer to it in my head as reapplication. I did not account for the time I would spend differentiating between good and bad thesis statements, which left me without the required time at the end of class to complete the activity. This was another moment that taught me I need to remember that all students are different, and allow myself to adjust accordingly so that they still get the maximum amount of knowledge out of whatever I am teaching. 

I was able to apply this knowledge on several different days throughout the semester, but the smoothest teaching day I had was the day I taught profiles. I used profile day as a two-fold day. One, to teach the profile genre, and two, to help clarify what I was looking for with the proposal assignment I had created. I started the class by reintroducing the ideas of the rhetorical situation and how they would function within the proposal. I then broke the class into groups (after royally messing up the math and making them count twice), and had them break down the an essay in a backwards proposal fashion. By asking each group to find the thesis, sources (and their function), introduction importance, conclusion importance, intended audience, and rhetorical strategies, I was able to show them the elements of a paper proposal in a less confusing fashion than a mere bullet-point list by explaining how the information they gathered was exactly the brainstorm they would have done to form a paper proposal were they the ones creating the given essay. I feel like the students had a greater understanding of what I was looking for in the proposal. On my next go-round with this assignment, I would definitely place this activity on the same day as my proposal assignment day to give them a larger understanding from the get-go.

The second part of this day, I focused on profiles. First, I went over the things that are included in a biography. Then I transitioned to go over the basic elements of the profile and the different things it could be used to describe, explaining that the profile contains all of the elements of the biography and then some. This seemed to confuse them; they were quite stuck on the idea that biographies are boring. To counteract this, I gave each group a sample profile written by a student, and had them talk about what elements that profile contained and how those elements functioned within that profile. When we were done, with the little time we had left, we compared those elements to show that profiles can use different tools and still tell a story about their subject.

I think this activity went over very well. As a matter of fact, I think that I did quite well on this day. If I had to list the best thing, it would be that I actually got the students to talk, to each other and to me. I was also able to alter the lesson plan I had made on the fly, which is something I have always struggled with in the past. The strange thing is, I noticed that being willing to deviate from my “script,” so to speak, actually made me more comfortable and easy-going in front of the class than I have been on past teaching days. Being able to drift where they wanted to go while still staying in the general area I wanted to be in allowed me to get my point across strongly at the same time as allowing them to fully engage. I also really like using student profiles of all different sorts. Not only did this really drive home to them that there are many different ways to craft a profile, it also drove home the idea that they, too, could write a profile. I think they found the pieces I gave them easier to work with than pieces we’ve assigned in the past because they were written by students; this allowed them to connect to the pieces on a new level.

My biggest negative for the day was time management. I wish I would have had a little more time at the end of class to compare all of the different elements of the different profiles they picked. All in all though, I think that this was my best teaching day of the year. It was the closest I came to feeling as comfortable in the English classroom as I’ve felt in my drama classroom; it was also the first time where I was not thinking so much about what the professor was thinking about what I was doing as about whether the students were with me and understanding the material that I needed them to understand. I was confident in who I was in front of the classroom as well as what I was teaching, and I was not relying on someone else to give me that confidence. I produced it on my own.

I am different now than I was my first semester as a teaching assistant. Or, rather, I’ve been different this semester, and am therefore coming out of this with a different impression. I’m more confident. I’m better at planning out what I’m going to do, and I’m better at being flexible and adjusting on the fly, planning at the last minute. I’m a better teacher because of both of these things. The thing about teaching is that there really isn’t any one right way to do it. I know that now. All of my life, I’ve looked to others to tell me what to do and I live for the right answers. I need them. My teaching style has evolved into a mix of the people around me; I’m not the drama teacher on her first day anymore, and I’m not the teaching assistant who makes stupid mistakes. I’m the woman who watches, who absorbs, who learns and grows. I have watched my own professors, both those I’ve worked closely with and those I haven’t. I have read the comments they put on my papers, looked at their rubrics, and figured out how they grade. Through that, I have begun to figure out where I lie on the scale of teachers. My grading style is a mixture of many; I tend to be more tough than I need to be, but I am learning how to be less black and white. I am figuring out a line of balance wherein I can be available to my students but also have time for myself. I have decided that I will implement the flipped classroom, wherein the students will read the material before class and then come in and help steer the discussion. I have gotten to work with students and their writing on a daily basis through my various positions. Nothing is more rewarding for me that moment when a student gets the skill that I’m trying to teach and can do it by themselves. As much as I love being able to teach, I also love that moment when the student I am working with doesn’t need me anymore. That moments means I have been successful in the work I set out to do. I feel that the experiences I have had as a teaching assistant will make me a powerful asset to any institution because I already know both how to conduct myself in front of the classroom and how to communicate with students.

Had I gone into graduate school without this practical experience as a teaching assistant, I think there’s a good chance I would have failed; I was not confident enough before this. I was not ready to be a teacher, because I thought I still needed to be taught how to teach. I was wrong. How to teach can’t be taught—it just happens. It’s a skill that comes with confidence, with loving what you do and wanting to share what you know. This is the number one lesson that I learned from being a teaching assistant.

And I’m ready now.

 

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The Right Answer (On Being a TA) — Rough Draft

One of my advisors once told me that she lives for the moment where her students no longer need her and can be independent. I love that moment. I wish it could occur every day; I also wish that I could not be sad when it doesn’t. I’ve heard that feeling, that sadness, does go away for some. But I don’t want it to, not really. When it does, I’ll know it’s time to stop teaching.

*

The first real class I ever taught, aside from church related things, was a beginning theater class for five to eight year olds. My aid for the class could probably testify to the fact that I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. I had observed the class under another teacher, so I had a basic idea regarding how things should go. But I had come in expecting a curriculum filled with the right answers and what to do and arrived to find nothing but a roster and a theme: Robin Hood for tiny humans. It was my first experience flying by the seat of my pants. I like to think it worked out well; I then taught for the company for the next three years. But that first class has always been my favorite. I felt like a teacher when I was in front of their semicircle, all of them sitting cross-legged and staring up at me, waiting for me to tell them what to do. However, I will never forget the moment when they walked onstage for the end of session performance and were able to say their lines and do the choreography without me. They were independently acting, wearing their construction paper Robin Hood hats (that kept falling off on the stage). Maybe they weren’t perfect, but they were pretty darn great. They displayed the things they learned in class, and I had had a part in that, however small. To me, that was what being a teacher was really about.

*

I can’t remember exactly when I made the decision to become a TA—it just sort of happened. I don’t think there are many of them in undergrad. Or at least not many who ARE undergrads. I believe this makes me a unique breed. 

I received an email from professor towards the middle of my second year of undergrad. She was looking for a dedicated student to work as a supplemental instructor. It wasn’t really teaching, per say. Supplemental instruction more revolves around reviewing material with the students and teaching them how to learn independently. But I still had a blast with it. It was a completely different feeling than being in front of the kids and teaching drama. I looked forward to doing it in future semesters. Then it came:

We don’t have enough Psych 101 instructors that want SI next semester, so we won’t be able to use you.

I was told that if I could find a professor willing to work with me, I could possibly do SI for that professor instead. So I put out a Facebook status and tagged every professor I was friends with. I got a bite:

I’m very interested. Let’s chat.

I was very interested in working with this professor, N, but it turned out her course didn’t have a high enough failure rate to require a supplemental instructor. It wasn’t in the budget. I still desperately wanted the opportunity to learn from her.

Behold. The idea to TA was born.

*

I often get asked what I do as a TA. It’s a lot; it’s too much to list. And my duties have evolved. I attend class, I talk. I grade, I lead. I comment, I assist. I get to draw on the board and occasionally play Vanna. It just seems to work.

Last semester, I went into the first day as a TA quite overwhelmed; I wasn’t sure how it would be to “share” a classroom, so to speak. I wasn’t sure where my place was, how I fit, what I was supposed to do. I didn’t know when to speak up, how to make things work as a person in front of the classroom but not in front of it at the same time. In a classroom of 18 year old and up people as opposed to tiny humans. 

I don’t think I spoke the first day. I possibly didn’t speak the second either. I panicked when I realized there were 28 students and I couldn’t remember their names. 28 seemed like so many more than 16, the largest size theater class I’d ever taught. And the first time I taught as a TA, I did a lot of things wrong. I had an activity planned that involved my laptop, but I had never used my laptop with the projector before. I didn’t realize everything would automatically show when I plugged it in; I failed to take into account the fact that I had student grades up on my screen, as well as failed to remember that my wallpaper was a picture of my dead son. When the class didn’t respond to me, I forgot that they weren’t really talkers to begin with and began to panic and rush through things. I expected N to bail me out rather than try to bail myself out; I immediately looked to her. And while she did save me, she at the same time made me keep going. When no one would really converse with me regarding the video clip I had shown, I started calling on random people. I didn’t give them enough time to think. I was scared to wait them out. And then I didn’t fully connect my segment to the main theme for the day—fallacies.

I cried driving away from campus that day, because I couldn’t focus on the good things that had happened—that the students liked the video clip, that they did eventually engage, that they gave me the correct answers. I could only focus on the fact that things didn’t go precisely the way I’d planned, and the fact that I would never be a teacher.

Even at the end of the semester, when I had a lot of TA wins under my belt, I thought back to that first day, that day I screwed up. But the focus started to change when I realized that rather than continually calling myself a failure, I wanted to be better. I wanted to grow.

I’m different now than I was that first semester. More confident. I’m better at planning out what I’m going to do, and I’m a better TA for it. I talk to the class, and they talk to me. This semester, I’ve even (somewhat) created my own assignment for the first time, a composition design proposal that I will assign in class this week. Things seem to be going better. I’m not sure if it’s that the class is more talkative and better as a whole, or that I’ve learned. 

I like to think I’ve learned.

*

I had a student once named A. A was very quite and shy. I had a hard time getting her to engage with the other kids. She didn’t want to sing solos or talk in front of people, but she loved me. Every week she would bring me a small gift, from a construction paper drawing of “her teacher” to a valentine, to a photo of her new puppy. It was wrong to have favorites, but she was definitely one of mine. Not because of the gifts, but because I understood her. I was shy too. 

“Do you ever get afraid in front of people?” she asked me one day after class.

“A,” I replied, “I think everybody does. It’s okay to be shy, but performing can be different. An escape from being scared. You can be whoever you want to be.”

“Okay,” she replied, and then skipped off to meet her older brother.

She disappeared from classes for a while after that session, but when she turned eight she auditioned for and was accepted to her first show. When she came onstage as one of the orphans in “Annie,” I cried. It was the moment I realized I was meant to be a teacher.

*

I have never been so grateful for the chance to work with someone as I am to work with N. Not because I work with her now so many days a week and get to do all the things. Not because of the load she carries and the way she’s taught me to balance, though her load is enormous. And not just because she’s awesome, though she definitely is. It’s because of the little things. The fact that she spends an hour on grading a paper other people might dismiss for being poor work, just so she can maybe help the student become just a tiny bit better. The fact that she spends her entire break preparing her classes and looking back on activities to enhance them and make them better each semester using suggestions from students. The fact that she opens her office and her email and her time to help her students and make them not just better students, but better people. She has done that for me, without a question. That N has taken the time to work with me has made me a better teacher as well as a better person. Not many people get this chance, but I did. And I’m doing well at it. I more than make it work. I’m becoming more confident. Growing. Learning.

During student conferences, which she let me sit on, I watched N handle an especially promising student who was not doing so well—a student that I might have written off were the decision left to me. Despite the problems this student has had, N was still willing to work with her. She was able to see past that and see the student underneath, and I could tell that she wanted to break through. I believe that she can, whether it be to that student or to a different one. Even when she doesn’t know the right answer, she figures it out.

I want to be that teacher someday.

*

The thing about teaching is that there really isn’t any one right way to do it. I know that now. All of my life, I’ve looked to others to tell me what to do and I live for the right answers. I need them. My teaching style has evolved into a mix of the people around me; I’m not the drama teacher on her first day anymore, and I’m not the TA who makes stupid mistakes. I’m the woman who watches, who absorbs, who learns and grows. I watch all of my professors and the way they handle their classrooms; I read the comments that they put on my papers and I look at their rubrics, and I figure out how they grade. Through that, I have begun to figure out where I lie. My grading style is between two professors, N and D. I’m less black and white than I used to be, but I still have a hard time calculating grades without actual numbers in front of me. I enjoy the way T makes herself available to help students in whatever way she can. I love the way they all flip the classroom, the way they make me think, and the way they have taught me to have my own ideas and stand on them. I have learned so much from all of my professors, about teaching and about simply being. And I am grateful for every last opportunity.

I started writing this thinking that my teaching was a little piece of all of them. But I’m beginning to realize that it’s a lot of me too. And that that’s the right answer.

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Chords

It was my grandma who wanted me to become a musician. I don’t recall a time when I wasn’t one. I have always loved to play, to sing. It’s just a form of being for me. I could never be a music major though; I lack that sort of dedication.

The first time I sat at an organ, I was seven years old. I’m not sure who was more apprehensive—me, or the eighty year old teacher that I had no clue how to talk to. I have absolutely no recollection of that first lesson beyond the memory that her house smelled like cats. My house also smelled like cats, so it really wasn’t that bad. I may not fully remember that first teacher, but I do remember what she taught me—chords. 

Chords are the fundamental basis for everything in music. Basic chords contain three or more notes that play together in harmony. Each letter of the musical alphabet from A to G has a wide variety of accompanying chords. Major to minor, sharp to flat, augmented to diminished, fifths, sevenths…the possibilities of chord creation are endless. Knowing the things from an early age not only gave me an ear for music and very good pitch, it allowed me to play basically any song with little effort. Knowing chords gave me a strong musical foundation that I have always been able to fall back on.

*

Before your class, I had never heard of CNF. I signed up for it because it was required for the major, and because it was writing, and because I didn’t know. I honestly didn’t know what the course was. And it scared me. A lot. You broke my box in so many ways, and you made me a completely different writer. I discovered that I could write that which I couldn’t talk about, and that I could be heard while not being heard. I’m not sure I would have gone to grad school before that class. Or even thought about it, really. Because who goes to grad school to be a writer? Writers. Was I a writer? Before? I’m not sure.

“I don’t want to go to grad school anymore.” I slid the book that we had just finished discussing back towards my backpack.

“Why not?” N frowned, closing her own copy of the book.

“Because I’m not sure I can afford it. Because I don’t know how to choose. Because I don’t know if what I want is what I’m supposed to want. What I want and what I should do are two totally different things.”

“Well, what do you want?” N asked.

“New York,” I replied, without hesitation.  “For reals.”

“What is it that you like about it?”

I thought about this for a moment. “I like that they talk to me.” When she looked at me strangely, I continued, “Well, what I mean is…they aren’t so institutionally. I know who my advisor is; I’ve talked to her. I’ve been able to connect with other students. They signed me up for their social network. I feel like they are very open and friendly. Like what I have here. And I know that I am totally that student who needs a rock…”

“Surprise,” she interrupted. “Because I didn’t know that.”

“Ha ha,” I answered dryly.

“I get it. We have a rapport.  You want that somewhere else.”

“Yeah. I guess. I wish I could know who all of my advisors were. I feel like that’s a thing for me. New York is giving that to me.”

“The thing is, you don’t always know that you’ll have a specific advisor. Sometimes there are program advisors, or general advisors. You may not have one specific person until you are picking who to work with on your thesis. And even then, you might not get who you want. It depends on how many other people request that person, how that person might work with you, et cetera.”

“Yeah,” I replied, ever so eloquently. I stared at the computer screen, at the website I had pulled up.

“You also need to consider where you’re coming out of, the type of writing that the area is producing, what’s coming out. What’s being published.”

“They sent me a list of all the things from last year. The publications.”

“From graduates?”

“Graduates and current students. And a few professors.”

She thought for a moment before saying, “You can’t do something you’ll regret. If you think this is it, then you go. But you can’t get this far and then just not go to grad school because you’re scared. You need to make your own choices.”

The greatest thing I learned from you is that I can write. There isn’t necessarily one formula, one right answer, one right way to do it. There’s a lot of different things, different ways, and writing can fill a space inside.

I don’t know how to do these things, to pick a grad school, to set out on my own, to be this person I have become apart from him. I want to quit. I make excuses. It’s too expensive. I have the cat. I won’t have anywhere to live. I don’t know how to do this.

I will fail.

“Should I continue on or turn back? I wonder, though I knew my answer. I could feel it lodged in my gut: of course I was continuing on. I’d worked too hard to get here to do otherwise.” 

I read the Cheryl Strayed quote again, and again. And then once more for good measure. Because N is right. It is me. I have worked too hard to give up and go nowhere. Just because I am scared. Just because I am a little lost.

Where I am now is my foundation, and I don’t know how to leave that.  I don’t know how to give it up.

I’m scared.

I’ve been hurt a lot, and I’ve wasted a LOT of my life. I’ve let time pass and leave me behind and I don’t want to let that happen anymore—I don’t want to spend more time doing things for other people, or doing things that I don’t LOVE. And I love this.

*

The hardest piano piece I remember learning to play when I was a kid was “Fur Elise.” I liked sitting down and just playing, and that wasn’t a piece I could simply sit down and play. I didn’t want to practice; I didn’t want to put in the work that would be required of me to accomplish the piece. I wanted to quit. There was an A minor seventh chord that I didn’t understand. I didn’t want to fail.

I had a strong foundation with chords. So I figured them out. And I can still play “Fur Elise” today. There was a large payoff for the work I put in. I can play many things that are harder than “Fur Elise,” and many things that are easier. Because I put the time in. Because I figured it out. Because that foundation didn’t need to be given up. It stayed with me; I built on it.

This too, I will figure out, I will build on. Because I have a strong foundation now, and because I am not willing to walk away.

I can still play that A minor seventh chord to this day.

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Poverty in Academia, Thy Name is Grad School

I read an excellent post this morning about being poor and surviving within academia.  Here’s a link to it:

http://tenureshewrote.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/succeeding-in-graduate-school-despite-poverty/ 

It’s funny, really.  I don’t think much about the fact that I’m poor except when I come across things like this.  This is probably because there are many people who are much more poor than I am.  But the truth is, I’m incredibly low income.  If I weren’t living in the place where I’m currently living, I probably would not be able to afford academia at all.  I’m clever about my life.  I purchase a meal plan, even though I’m a commuter, because it’s cheaper to eat the half off (and occasionally disgusting) food on campus than to buy food.  I get most of my clothes used.  I charge a LOT on credit cards.  I pretend I have more money than I actually do.  I pay all my bills, on time, and when I do, there’s no money left each month.  But I’m still here.

 

I survive on a small teacher’s salary combined with what I get from teaching private music lessons.  Let me tell you, that’s not a lot.  I undercharge for lessons because I’m too nice to raise my fee to something more in line with industry standards.  And soon I won’t be teaching, because money is tight within the company and there’s no room for me anymore.  It’s hard for me to admit that I can’t do something because I don’t really have enough money (that’s often, lately).  I feel like I’m fake a lot of the time; I don’t really fit because I’m different.  Because I came from somewhere different, I live in a world that doesn’t really feel like mine.  No one ever explained how college financially worked to me, really.  When I was graduating high school, I didn’t understand financial aid or grants or scholarships.  I didn’t know that there was money available to me from outside sources.  All I knew was that I had no money.  As a result, I skipped college.  I lived another life.  And now I’m back, and about to graduate and go to grad school.

 

I’ve struggled lately as to why the idea of grad school is terrifying to me, and I think this is a piece of that.  Apart from the emotions of leaving a life I have completely rebuilt and grown comfortable in, there is also the issue of my income to consider.  In just a few short months, there’s a good chance I will have to relocate for grad school (assuming I get in).  In so many ways, I’m not ready.  I can barely afford to live now, and I will have to pay to move to pay to live to pay to get a degree that will get me…something.  What precisely I’m not sure.  I want to write.  I could teach.  There’s quite a few possibilities, but none of them involve making money.  I will be low income forever.  There’s no miracle job at the end of my degree that will bring me millions, but I will love what I’m doing.  Is that okay?  Is that enough?

 

I own not much of my own after the dissolution of my marriage.  A book case and a dresser.  A television and a DVD player.  Miscellaneous books.  A few dishes.  I gave up pretty much all of my things in the divorce just to be out.  If I could do it over again, I would have used the information I had and fought him harder.  Kept more things.  Sold them now to pay for relocation.  But I didn’t.  I let him take pretty much everything.  Through the grace of friends, I somehow manage to function.  But what happens when I’m in a completely new place?  I can’t sleep on my shiny blue plates.  What if I get in and I can’t find somewhere to live that I can afford?  What if there’s, plain and simple, just no money to make this happen?  In that I wonder whether applying at all was a mistake.  What if I can’t afford to go?  No one is going to support me financially but me, and I don’t want a repeat of my high school graduation.  I don’t want a second break from academia.  I’m almost thirty.  There’s just not enough time.  

 

Poverty is a cycle.  To break out is difficult.  To improve one’s quality of living is very difficult.  I’m getting a degree, and now I will be paying it off.  I will be paying for years once graduate school is done.  Money will not exist for me.  In trying to better myself the only way I knew how, in trying to get a degree, I am, in effect, keeping myself in poverty.  When you come from poverty, you are poor because it’s what you know.  It takes a miracle to get out.  I will be paying to advance myself and then paying for paying for that advancement.  Money will go out but won’t come in.  Society doesn’t make it easy to break free from that.  

 

If I were still married, I would have some medium of money.  (Were I even here.)  But I’m not, and that’s a good thing.  So can I be happy, safe, and have money?  That remains to be seen.  

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Endings

Another semester has ended, and with it, a part of my life.  But a new segment of my life is beginning.  A new part of the journey.  Me moving forward, hopefully into grad school.

I came up with an end segment for my memoir this week.  Here’s a portion of it:

This memoir has been the story of a recovery.  Of a hike.  But more than that, of a life lived and people met along the way.  

If nothing else, for me as I am now, what happened to me doesn’t matter in the same way that it used to.  Yes, it’s still there.  And yes, it still hurts.  But it hurts in a different way, because I am different.    I don’t want to spend my life behind a pane of glass.  I want to experience all of the things that the world has to offer.  I want to be confident that I can handle life’s occurrences, even though it’s hard.  

I want to know the things that other people already recognize.

Life on the other side is hard and bright and loud.  But it’s also fun and enriching and educating and a million other things.  I want to cross the threshold and experience life beyond the wall that I’ve constructed around myself.

This has been the story of my journey.  All of the pieces of this journey and the people within it add up to the place where I am now.  Because I have survived these things, I know that I can survive anything.  N told me recently that when, not if, I get in to graduate school, I will become my best self, even better than I am now, because I will be around writers and I will be writing.  What makes me strong is my words, and they’ll be with me wherever I go.  

Like I said in the beginning, this story isn’t pretty.  It isn’t magical flowers and rainbows; it doesn’t feature a unicorn.  But it does belong to me.  I have struggled for a long time regarding how to end this.  But now I know that there is no ending.  To end would be to stop growing, and I don’t ever want to stop.  I always want to grow.  I want to continue to be better than my past, to be better than the holes.  I want to hold on to what I have and take it and use it and be better.  

I want, more than anything, to keep this journey moving to the other side.

These people will be with me forever, because they are part of my story.

These words will be with me forever.

This life will be mine.  Forever.

I’ve been worried lately about endings.  The end of my undergraduate career.  The end of my life in Wisconsin.  The end of my time with the wonderful people I have met and been blessed with the opportunity to learn from.  I have had amazing mentors within the college I go to who have given me the opportunity to learn more about life and myself and everything than I ever thought possible.  I have made real friends that will be around for a long time.  Many times, I think about how scared I am to leave this place, to end this time of my life.  But the end of this semester and my subsequent reflections upon life have shown me that I’m thinking about this all wrong.  Instead of thinking about endings, I should be thinking about beginnings—like that saying about one door closing and another opening.  Every ending in my life has actually been a beginning.  The end of my son was the beginning of the dissolution of my marriage.  The end of my marriage was the beginning of my college career.  The end of my college career will be the beginning of my new life and, hopefully, a graduate school career.  Each time something in my life has ended, as sad as it has been, it has pushed me into a new place.  I am learning to handle my life, bit by bit.  I am making allowances, taking care of myself and doing the things that I need to do to be okay.  I’m learning that it’s okay to not always be okay, that it’s okay to be broken sometimes.  But, in turn, I’m also learning that just because I break occasionally does not mean that I am forever damaged.  I am not damaged.  I have been hurt, but it does not define me.  I am healing, slowly but surely.  And this ending is a new beginning.

Endings are sad, but they aren’t as sad when we reverse them.  When we make them beginnings.  The word beginning implies an opportunity to grow.  My words make me strong, and they will always be with me.  I will take myself and lay everything out; I will learn and grow from my experiences and the knowledge and support of the people around me.  And because I am giving myself opportunities to grow and become my own person, I will be my best self.

I have been worried about leaving, about the end.  But there is no end.  There is only growth.  And I will never, ever, stop growing.

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No Matter What

I’ve had a flurry of contact with two different graduate school programs over the past few weeks, most recently a phone interview for one program.  The interview went incredibly well, which I found pleasantly surprising.  We spent ten minutes or so covering my writing sample, and the ways that art relates to my work.  We talked about why I want to go to graduate school, and I got to ask questions regarding the types of courses the particular professor who was interviewing me taught.  After that, they asked me about my greatest literary and professional influences.  I spent a good ten minutes talking about Chaucer.  And I started thinking.

Nothing has stretched me more than college has.  For the first time in a long time, I have found a community where I actually fit.  I have found people to learn from and people to be friends with, people who think like I do and share my interests.  People who have taught me new things and new skills, and helped shaped the skills that I already had into things I could use.  People who have allowed and even encouraged me to be myself, and helped me to develop that self into someone that I am proud to call me.  People who have helped me not to quit.  I have never had a group of people, between the friends I have made and the professors who have both supported and enriched me, that have made me feel so comfortable being me.  I am more grateful to each and every one of them than most of them will ever know.

This interview process combined with the weekly emails I’ve been exchanging with another school have made the process of graduate school very VERY real to me.  As in, it is really happening.  As in, it looks like I’m going.  I might actually be accepted.

I’m going to be leaving where I am now behind.  I am going to leave HERE.

I can’t decide how I feel about this.  This place has made me who I am, reminded me how strong and independent and fully functional I can be.  Presented with the prospect of doing an in-person interview for the school I phone-interviewed for, I suddenly find myself pondering where my identity comes from yet again.  Can I be the person that I am now somewhere else, without the people who have helped me and taught me SO much?  Can I be confident in another place, another setting, without people to lean on?  I’m not sure if I can, and it scares me.

I pushed for graduate school because I wanted to be in a place that isn’t local, where my experiences are not the first thing that come to people’s mind when they see me.  I pushed for graduate school because I wanted to get away.  But now I’m not so sure.  I’m not sure I’m ready to get away.  I’ve been taught my whole life how to listen to others, and I don’t know how to listen to myself.  I’m not sure this me can come with me, and I care for her very much.

I wrote something similar to D today, and she responded, “You will carry this with you wherever you are.  This is yours no matter what.”

This kind of statement, from someone I greatly respect, is exactly what I’m talking about.  The support I’ve found, the place that I’ve made for myself, is not something that I want to give up.  I have grown from the person I was when I was with him into someone else entirely.  I have learned how to be on my own.  My advisor once told me that one of the greatest moments she has while teaching is the moment when a student does not need her anymore, when they can do things on their own.  Through the guidance of my awesome professors, through the love and acceptance I have received from my friends, this is exactly the point I am arriving at.  I have learned so much.  I am at the point now where I have to start learning on my own, and have confidence that my ideas still matter even when they are just mine.  This person that I am, as influenced and supported and cared about and accepted as she is, will still be me even if that goes away.  Even if I’m on my own.  Because the things that these wonderful people have taught me will always be with me.  I will carry these things, and I will carry me; I will grow, and I will learn more things.  I will carry the new things too.  I will carry me, always.  No matter what.

This is all totally new to me.  I’ve become something totally new.  But heck if I’m not scared.

I’m not ready to leave.

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The Painting

“That is the funny thing about paint.  At the first cold splash of reality it washes away.  And the surface you are trying cover is as ugly as ever.”  —Jodi Picoult

 

In layman’s terms, a cognitive distortion is an extremely exaggerated or irrational thought pattern that perpetuates several different psychological disorders.  It is commonly assumed that these distortions are at the heart of eating disorders.  Personally, I disagree.  Having an eating disorder, to me, is like painting over a picture that has already been created.  The picture on the underside, the thing that is in the past, is ugly, but it’s covered up the incessant need to be “beautiful.”  “Good enough.”  “Thin.”  Take away the paint, and that thing is still there.  It hasn’t been dealt with; it hasn’t been destroyed.  It still hurts.  Festers.

It is always there when you look in the mirror.  

A large portion of people who experience some type of eating disorder are perfectionists.  Perfectionism is shown to be a fairly significant risk factor for the development of an eating disorder, and the levels of perfectionism tend to improve slightly when the person is in “recovery.”  An article I read recently by Anna Bardone-Cone, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, stated that a fully recovered group of people largely resembled a non eating-disordered control group in terms of their perfectionism, while the partially recovered group more resembled those still in the full throes of their disorder. 

This perfectionism can manifest itself in a myriad of ways, from always having to do things right the first time to needing to earn straight A’s, to having to order your clothes a certain way.  But the disorder isn’t about being perfect. It’s not about being thin. It’s about knowing that there is one thing left in your life that still belongs to you, one thing that you can still control. It’s about having the power to slowly disappear.  

That is the only power you still wield. 

*

Last semester, I took an amazing class in writing creative nonfiction.  One of the last in class journals that we did was about body mapping.  I was not thrilled with the assignment or the world itself that day, so I drew my “body” in the somewhat shape of a gingerbread character.  Lumpy.  Out of proportion.  I’m fairly certain that the first thing people notice about me is how fat I am, I wrote.  It’s certainly the first thing I notice about me—every day.  I had a baby, but didn’t get to bring him home.  I only brought home the fat.  

I remember the first time I realized I was fat.  I was eight and I was in the school lunchroom.  I had a pink Barbie lunch-bag, and the Barbie had that skinny body and perfect yellow blonde hair that can only exist in Barbie-land.  I had a sandwich and a banana.  And maybe some sort of dessert.  I don’t remember.  But there was another girl at the lunch table who looked in my bag and said “You’re going to eat all that?”  Rather than defy her, I walked to the trash bin and threw my entire lunch away.  

Looking back now, I can see that the little girl in the lunchroom that day was jealous of my lunch box.  That’s why she said the things she said.  But it wasn’t so easy to see then.  I lost myself in the mirror, in the desire to fade away.  I remember a quote from the movie “Girl, Interrupted” based on the memoir by Susanna Kaysem, said by a girl with an eating disorder during expressive group therapy:  “I don’t want to be a fucking tree.  I want to be a bush!”  I get her.  All she wanted was to fade away, to disappear.  Into the mirror.

*

I own a small panda bento box.  I went on this weird tangent last year where I was coming up with weird stuff to put in it.  For instance, one time I made spicy peanut noodles.  Another time, I made japanese rice balls.  It was a fun thing I did to keep myself entertained on really long days.  

This semester, I haven’t brought it to school.  I claim to be busy, that I have a meal plan, that I’m this, that I’m that.  I wonder if I’m making excuses.  If I’m slipping.  I wonder.  Do I have to wonder?  Am I forgetting because I’m busy?  Or am I forgetting because it’s the one thing I can remember to do?  What does it mean?  I notice I’ve been getting a large amount of food from my friends, and I wonder what they see.  Do they see me?  Or do they see the me in the mirror?  Is it okay that I sometimes eat and sometimes don’t?  This question seems important right now, and I’m not sure why.  I feel like I’m forgetting.  I worry that I’m lost.

*

I was a bit of a bitch in the throes of the disorder.  I remember one particular conversation with my therapist in high school where she asked me to describe what an apple would taste like.  I refused.  “I don’t eat apples,” I informed her.  “I don’t like the way they get stuck in my teeth.”

“Correction—you don’t eat anything.”  

She offered me a choice then.  Sour cream and onion chips, an apple, and a container of strawberry Yoplait yogurt.  “Pick one,” she commanded.  “You can’t until you do.”

“No.”  I folded my arms stubbornly across my chest and met her gaze dead on.

She folded her own arms and leaned back in a replication of my position.  “That’s fine.  I can wait.”

That was a lie.  She had other appointments; I was not her only patient.  I got up off the couch I was settled on and snatched up the apple.  “How do you know I won’t throw it out the first chance I get?”  I was trying to be as big of a smart-ass as possible.  Trying to save myself.  Trying to hide how sorry I was that I let her down.  I was certain I could live off of caffeine and potato chips alone.  

*

I ask myself often whether I want victory, or I want escape.  And are the two interchangeable?  If my victory is graduating, then that is also when I will escape.  But if my victory is simply surviving…my escape could come whenever.  Does losing everything that I am mean giving up dreams too, as a side effect?  I’m still here.  Does that mean anything at all?

I am reinventing.

I spend my days pondering grad school, wondering if I’m good enough.  Wondering if I will get in.  Wondering if I can get them to like me.  Wondering if I make myself the right fit.  I sit in N’s office and eat candied orange peels and worry that I’m messing up my life.  My GPA.  These things I’ve graded that we’re working on.  I’m terrified that I am wrong, always.  That I will fail.  That I am not the right fit for anything. Someone very wise told me that there is no right fit; I could be horrible and they won’t take me, but I could also be awesome and they still won’t take me.  There’s no perfect formula for this, no solution.  No easy way.  I am juggling too many things, and it feels crushing sometimes.  It’s devastating that I can’t be perfect all the time.

I am always apologizing. 

I live off caffeine.

I run from the past things that I don’t think I can deal with.

I dream of that moment of victory, of escape.  

I am always doing these things, everything I can possibly do, but I worry that they aren’t enough.  I worry that I’m lost.  I worry that I am trying to paint over the picture that is me; that I’m trying to cover up.  Hide.  

Is it okay to dream if you can never reach the dream?  If the dream is way above you?  Do we morph or evolve to fit our dreams?  Or does life just happen; does it just destroy us?  I believe that we make choices, when we are scared.  And these choices are not always the right ones.  Marya Hornbacher writes, “Never, never underestimate the power of desire.  If you want to live badly enough, you can live.  The great question, at least for me, was:  How do I decide I want to live?”

How?  That really is the ultimate question.

Disappearing into the mirror means a long road back and a painting I can’t afford to pay for.

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